"For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation."
At first consideration, it’s completely reasonable. Because it seems to fall against "sinners", and against other people. But God would surely excuse his favoured, his chosen…. his true believers… right? If it’s anything to us, then it’s an encouragement. It’s a pat on the back.
It falls against us.
It’s a warning, and one we ignore — all is well in Zion.
Every day, we heap damnation on our own shoulders. We’re Israelites in the desert, refusing to ascend the mount and see God. Leave it to the prophets…
If any of us could really obey the Gospel, this world would suddenly become much too small for us. We’d be caught up into the sky like Elijah.
"A question was asked Joseph Smith if all would be damned, except the Latter-day Saints. He answered, ‘Yes, and most of the Latter-day Saints [too], unless they repent and do better than they have done.’"
So much more than a clever retort, I think I see this saying fulfilled anew nearly every day I’m here at BYU.
Was Joseph a friend to the saints at all hazards, and no accuser? Did he want to share the next life with them, in heaven or hell?
So he spoke; but what, then, is a nominal ‘Saint’, compared with a real saint?
"…Even the Saints are slow to understand."I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see [that] some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen."
Does dipping below the waterline at the hands of a holy man turn a sinner holy, no matter what else he does? Or what power enters the bread and water by prayer, that all who partake think they have earned the permanent favour and indulgence of God? Jesus once passively pronounced a future woe to those of us who pretend so:
"…Whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul…"
What is damnation? It’s much more than we think. So described the revelation:
"…They are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial.""…They obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God."
"These are they who are honorable men of the earth…"
Then good people are damned — why? Because their hearts honour one truth but betray the next truth. And though a man saves the lives of a hundred, and yet murders one innocent, he remains a murderer. Who would dare mention his good or praise him, lest that innocent blood cry out against them too?
So, we’re not murderers, even by figuration. We’ve lived a celestial law, celestial enough. What else is damnation?
"…They cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation…""If he does not [enter into this order]… he cannot obtain [the highest degree of celestial glory]."
"…Angels [who] did not abide my law…"
If, then, God spares not the angels that sin, who occupy the highest heaven and yet are damned… and if God spares not the natural branches, though they are born in the covenant…
…Then we should take heed, and be no more high-minded. We think we keep the whole law, yet we offend in many points.
On what grounds are we damned? In what way do we repel the light of heaven that penetrates the whole earth beneath us, and all creation besides us?
Little things, that’s all. Stuff that "won’t keep us out of the temple".
What did Jesus advise?
"Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart… and… Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.""Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the strait gate… because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
In what ways do we flout these laws daily, to the offense of the heaven that cannot endure such arrogance, and to the delight of the other heavens that give place to crookedness?
Walk outside; look at the ground.
See that piece of trash? Maybe it’s a food wrapper or a plastic sack… maybe a gum wrapper.
Somebody walking past, of course, had some rubbish, and, knowing that refuse gets thrown into landfills, and considering this God-created world their own personal dump, knowing the land is unable to rise up and defend itself when garbage is thrown in its very face, and worse, disregarding the welfare of any of the hundreds of people whose hearts will sink a little to see their surroundings polluted and wasted, chose to break this celestial law, as if on that scrap of trash had been written a guarantee of their own exaltation, which they preferred instead to forfeit.
"…No unclean thing can dwell with God…""If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy…""He ruleth high in the heavens, for it is his throne, and this earth is his footstool."
Is littering a small thing? Yes, it’s barely mentionable when speaking of the Great Laws of heaven. And yet gods do not litter. And it’s still the case that God will not allow one to physically pollute his kingdom any more than to spiritually pollute it; and a man truly damns himself somehow by throwing garbage on the open ground, showing himself unable to abide even one of the smallest laws of self-control.
Or come here to BYU, almost anywhere at all. Stand a while. Watch and listen. Watch this girl stop abruptly in the middle of the busy sidewalk to gossip with her friend, deflecting those behind her. Listen to that girl explode into laughter late at night as others try to rest, or during class. Listen to those guys whooping and clapping at each other, their laughter echoing through the previously calm campus. See the kids in that car scream out the window at startled pedestrians as they speed down the road. Hear that guy shout his private life, his imprudent judgments of last night’s date, past his handphone and into the distracted minds of the whole library room; or listen to that girl talk intimately with her companion. Look at the married couples pretend they’re alone — whoops, look away from that girl who forgot about the dress code. Observe the several dozen people on their way to an empty computer who, oblivious to the fact that there are other people in the world, repeatedly, endlessly, bump into the seated students with their backpacks. Pay attention to the unseemly lyrics blasted from the speakers at social events, dismissed by the students, like everything else in their lives, as one big joke. Note the multitudes who adorn themselves with vanity and a haughty walk, thinking that "beautification" is an outward thing; or the very many to whom a resurrected Spencer Kimball could no longer come preach his former modesty in a devotional address, lest it be too heavy doctrine for them.
These errors may seem even smaller than the litter on the ground; and yet they trample the high law of heaven. They destroy the peace of others, injuring that tiny minority that has aligned its opinions with those of prophets and angels. They contradict the command of Jesus: to offend others as little as you want them to offend you — to regard them as highly you regard yourself, and not take your freedom and bulldoze the interests of others.
And these small errors, these absences of consideration for one’s fellow men, will damn those who commit them, as all broken laws will.
We are the ones who preach that we know this is true or know that is true, and that God has loved us and blessed us. We should remember Job the next time we stand up to testify:
"If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me…"
…And with the greater light, the greater condemnation. Strange it may seem, that God would be happier with some of those who know less about him than with some who claim to know more and yet exist in selfishness.
But stranger still, that those who commit to a search for truth would then brush aside the truth that is inconvenient, merely because it’s "small".
And the less-strange wins.
This is not my Church, but God’s; I won’t try to steady this ark.
But my religion, anyway, is different from theirs. Mine is a religion not of abstinence from liquids, but of sobriety of the mind itself. My belief is not only to honour the codified rights, but to uphold those that can’t be written, that are too indistinct for vulgar man to recognize even if he reads them.
I close with some old words from old prophets — thank goodness they’re not tests of fellowship, or our figure of 13.5 million would pop like a balloon. But, as I’ve suggested, "commandments" or not, they remain tests of godliness for people who expect to become gods.
"I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament. In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections…"
"I have been highly gratified at the few remarks I have heard this morning… [This brother’s] remarks created considerable empty levity. I like to be pleased myself; I like to be filled with joy, but if I cannot be filled with joy and gladness that is full of meat and marrow, or, in other words, full of meaning and sense, I would rather retain my gravity. There is but one step between life and death, between faithfulness and apostacy, between the sublime and the ridiculous.
"We preach the Gospel and gather the Saints, but are all Saints when they are gathered? No, we gather the goats with the sheep…
"Never give way to vain laughter. I have seldom laughed aloud for twenty or thirty years without regretting it, and I always blush for those who laugh aloud without meaning. I am often full of joy and gladness, and were I to give way to the promptings of my nature at such times, it would lead to unreasonable levity which would be a source of mortification and sorrow to me. I noticed that the brethren gave way to that laugh which I choose not to hear. I hope they will accept of this caution, and watch, govern, control and subdue their passions. I am satisfied that those persons who stamp, clap hands, whistle, and make other noisy and boisterous demonstrations in the theatres so untimed and uncalled for, have but little sense, and know not the difference between a happy smile of satisfaction to cheer the countenance of a friend, or a contemptuous sneer that brings the curses of man upon man….
"When we look upon the human face we look upon the image of our Father and God; there is a divinity in each person male and female; there is the heavenly, there is the divine and with this is amalgamated the human, the earthly, the weaker portions of our nature, and it is the human that shrinks in the presence of the divine…
"I am now looking upon beings who are expressly created to inhabit the celestial kingdom of our Father and God… My best efforts are too feeble to portray before you the worth of the life we now possess. Probably there is not a single person upon the earth that properly magnifies his life to the fullest extent, or, as it was designed he should, to prepare him to dwell with God and holy angels. Many passages of Scripture can be produced showing how the ancients complained of the folly and wickedness of mankind, but they never undervalued life. The first life must be magnified as a preparatory step to the enjoyment of the second. Those immortal and glorified beings that inherit higher spheres understood this principle, have magnified their mortal existence and passed on to immortality to possess exaltations in eternal life.
"We ought not to speak lightly of and undervalue the life we now enjoy, but so dispose of each passing day that the hours and minutes are spent in doing good, or at least doing no harm, in making ourselves useful, in improving our talents and abilities to do more good; cultivating the principle of kindness to every being pertaining to our earthly sphere, learning [our talents’] uses and how to apply them to produce the greatest possible amount of good; learning to conduct ourselves towards our families and friends in a way to win the love and confidence of the good; and overcome every ungovernable passion by a constant practice of cool judgment and deliberate thoughts. I delight to see my brethren and sisters live in a way to promote that life which will never end. Instead of preparing to die, prepare to live in the midst of all the exaltations of the Gods."